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André Van Heerden is my antithesis, a good bookend to my evil nature and I
swear if I did not know about my father's virtue and can pretty much attest
to his father as well (a South African swimming champion and a self-styled
evangelist with a love for trying to debunk evolution, who married a
Canadian woman) I would swear we were somehow the product of the same
bloodline. You know, like the good and bad brother in the western movie, The
Tramplers, the Roman lore on Romulus and Remus or whatever the hell you call
them, or in the case of Cain and Abel in the Bible. I write books, usually
making Christians as the villains or killing them in unpleasant ways while
he makes movies, with Christians as the good guys and of course people I
would cheer for while watching, as the bad. Seperate forms of art but forms
nonetheless. He is an avid Christian. I am an agnostic. He pretty much loves
people, where I deplore them. Yet from the time we were introduced to each
other via the wonders of email, he has become one of my favorite interview
topics and one of my favorites to write about.
His bornagain followers who recognize my name will probably say "Praise
Jesus Christ" because I am writing about him again. Those followers of
mine who are horror buffs in the more traditional sense of the word, are
probably saying "Oh Jesus Christ, not again," instead. Oh well. So
As noted beforehand, André is the product of a Canadian mother and a South
African father, but was raised in Canada where he played soccer in college,
studied literature and developed a side interest in film. From there, he
walked into what is generally an impossible world to penetrate, either
through luck, divine guidance or just good timing.
Originally, he entered film-making, creating religious documentaries,such as
Startling Proofs, a project debating evolution and creationism. He then
became involved with a Christian television show of a similar nature, headed
by Peter & Paul Lalonde (sort of a Jay & Silent Bob of Christian
films, the one forever talking, the other barely saying a word in front of
the camera). When the said Lalondes decided to upgrade from a television
show to feature films, he happened to be right there. The right place, at
the right time.
Yet one cannot say he was lucky, without the talent to back it up, for an
inexperienced director, thrown into the mainstream so fast would have
crashed and burned had he no abilty. Instead, he made all the right
moves, repeatedly gained the respect from an experienced cast and his
films caught the eye of both born-againer and non-believer alike.
Foremost, Van Heerden has been involved with the Left Behind series (see the
Gordon Currie article, so I do not rehash everything), but not as a director.
Instead, he has worked in production, editing, advice and God knows what
else (to make a pun) as these films saw the light. In the DVD versions
he is usually heard offering behind the scenes extra footage or commentary.
It was in his own series of films featuring Christians versus The Antichrist
that he really proved his worth, in what has been dubbed "The
Tribulation series" and has yet to be concluded, though various scripts
have been tossed about. In this series, established actor Nick Mancuso
steals the show as Franco Macalousso, the most hammy son of the devil to
ever make it to the screen. Unlike Gordon Currie's subtle portrayal of
Nicolai in the Left Behind-series, Mancuso's villain is part Napoleon and part
the Clown. One minute he is frightening beyond words, the next you find
yourself laughing at something stupid he says or like the illfated Coyote,
always outsmarted by the Roadrunner in the old cartoons, has to contend with
his best-planned evil intentions backfiring on him.
The damned Christians just won't let him win one, no matter how he tries.
Van Heerden emerged directing Vanished, done more for documentary purposes
than for film entertainment. In this, Macalousso (played by a seperate actor,
as Mancuso had not yet come on the scene with Cloud Ten) has only a limited
role. Rather than entertaining, the movie was intended to be a forewarning
for those well ... left behind (remember the Christians think there will be a
big vanishing act before the devil takes control of the world, read the
Bible). Yet this film set the stage for the new director's rise and with it,
the subsequent cinema rise of his key villain, as well as a counterpart, a
blond news reporter played by Leigh Lewis, to twart him.
In the sequels, the general theme of Christian versus Devil was given
free reign, without evangelists such as John Hagee popping up to explain
what was going on, as was the case in Vanished. Macalousso is now in control
of the world, only a small army of post-rapture converts remain to challenge
him and the kid gloves are off. These, like the Left Behind series,
walk a thin line between "faith based" movies and horror films. There is somehting for believer and non-believer alike.
Macalousso is a "tempter" who knows everyone's weakness and works
on it. He whispers in their ear and gets them at their soft spots. One can
picture him holding an apple to Eve and saying "Eat this, you stupid
broad. Come on, you'll like it" (then force feeding it to her
if she refuses). This technique was the creation of the actor and Van Heerden, who studied numerous drawings and old paintings of the devil, where he is
seen whispering temptations into the ears of those about the do evil, egging
them on. From these old frescos, paintings and statues came a great number
of the now celebrated Macalousso mannerisms.
Tribulation may be argumentably the best of this series, starring Gary
Busey and Margot Kidder, plus of course Mancuso and his nemesis, Leigh Lewis. Throw in Howie Mandel, the comedian, in a rare serious role and you
have an interesting cast. In this, Macalousso is using this mandatory headgear
to force psychic links with him and forcing people to take a mark of
identification to prove their loyalty to him. He promises the world, then puts
his foot in his mouth at the end. How is best watched firsthand.
Never fear though, this leering jack-o-lantern of an archvillain is back again
in Judgment, as is his nemesis, Lewis. This time "God" is put on
trial. Well, there's something you don't see every day. And while Jesus does
not burst into the courtroom with Perry Mason at his side, the plot twists
abound where He doesn't have to. The door remains open for yet another sequal.
Van Heerden took a break from this series after Judgment to work on Deceived,
totally unrelated to the host of Antichrist films, but with a strong
born-againer versus non-bornagainer element. Add a different cast of
characters, a great Ennio Morricone type score and super camera angles for
this project, which showed even greater improvement over his past works. In
this film, a group of people are investigating strange signals believed to be
coming from God knows where, only to reveal God has nothign to do with this.
The signals may well come from hell and drive the listeners over the edge. Each of them are tempted by and usually yield to their own sin of choice, be
it pride, anger, gluttony, lust or whatever. For a "Christian" film
it pushes the envelope a bit too. In some cases libraries and video stores
have it in sci-fi rather than the religion section.
Yet in spite of a sometimes superhuman schedule, Van Heerden always finds time
to address questions by fans, talk about his products or as in my case engage
in a running battle of religion versus doubt. (I'm an agnostic and we have had
a running exchange of emails for nearly three years now.) Between arguing about
Jesus and why he should or should not be believed in, it seems like he
scarcely would have time to make movies. I am probably not the only one he does
"I'm gonna save him" I told my wife once. "I'm gonna turn him
into a normal person and get him to make outright horror films, which is what
he ought to be doing to begin with,"
I told my wife once, after reading one of his emails where he got the better
of me ...
"If he did that, he wouldn't fascinate you as much," my wife
responded in her droll, Wilma Flinstone way of saying things. "Plus his
movies wouldn't have that ultimate good versus ultimate bad anymore, because
he'd want the bad guys to win like you do."
She had a point.
Having just finished behind-the-scenes work on the third section of Left
Behind in late August, as noted in the Gordon Currie-piece, he decided to take
a vacation and go on a camping trip for two weeks. He is married with two
children. A well needed break, by the sound of it.
When he gets back I do hope he does not use his free time to argue the Bible
with me, but rather look into another film, as many of us cannot wait.
Franco Macalousso waits to be taken out of the closet and re-enter the
Take a hint, André. I know you are reading this.